By Mike Chapman
“My thoughts just before the first real college game of my life: The honor of my race, family & self is at stake. Everyone is expecting me to do big things. I will. My whole body and soul are to be thrown recklessly about the field tomorrow.” ~ Jack Trice, October 5, 1923
He played in just two college football games for Iowa State University, way back in 1923. In fact, he didn’t even finish the second game, being severely injured late in the third period and carried from the field. Yet, Jack Trice’s legacy looms larger than life!.
Though the school has produced numerous All-American football players – including offensive stars such as Dwight Nichols, Dave Hoppmann and George Amundson and defensive standout Matt Blair, who starred for twelve seasons in the NFL – the Cyclones now play their home games at Jack Trice Stadium.
Each fall, nearly 300,000 fans stream into the stadium named in his honor, yet very few Iowans know anything about the man himself.
The “fleeting college career … might not seem like much,” wrote Tim Griffin, for ESPN.com, “… but for those who have learned about Trice’s tragic story of sacrifice, it remains one of the most compelling in the history of college football.” Compelling indeed!
Jack was born in 1902 in Hiram, Ohio, but the exact date is unknown. He was the son of a slave descendent named Anna, and a rugged man named Green Trice, who once earned his living as a buffalo hunter.
A free black man who served on the Union side during the Civil War, Green later shot buffalo for a living. The occupation sprang into existence shortly after the Civil War as settlers pushed west and the government began building army posts across the Great Plains. At the same time, railroads drove west and construction crews dotted the landscape, building tracks. Both groups of men, soldiers and construction workers, needed plenty of meat to sustain their hardy existence, and buffalo meat was the most available and the cheapest. Buffalo hunting became a solid enterprise for the men who were rugged enough to handle the work.
By 1884, the great buffalo herds were decimated. Green Trice, Jack’s father, returned to Ohio. Green was so determined to get an education that he enrolled in first grade while in his mid 20s. He also met the woman who was to become his wife.
Green worked on a farm and wound up buying it when the owner died. He and Anna had just one child, a son they named John, and was called Jack. When Green died unexpectedly, Anna was left to raise young Jack by herself.
In 1918, she decided to send her sixteen-year-old son to Cleveland to live with an uncle. Anna Trice felt Jack needed to be exposed to a broader range of experiences than were available in the small town of Hiram; in particular, she felt he should be around more members of his own race.